Births In Japan And South Korea Hit Record Lows

Births In Japan And South Korea Hit Record Lows

March 2, 2024, 8:45 a.m.

The number of babies born in Japan and neighboring South Korea reached record lows in 2023, underlining the failure of efforts to buck the depopulation trend.

The number of babies born in Japan last year totaled 758,631, the lowest since record-keeping began and down 5.1 percent from 2022.

Japan experienced a postwar baby boom from 1947 to 1949. More than 2.69 million babies were born in 1949 alone, setting a record high.

The birthrate subsequently dipped, only to surge again from 1971 to 1974. Births in 1973 topped 2.09 million, but the figure has been in decline ever since. In 2016, the number dropped below one million for the first time.

Japan's National Institute of Population and Social Security Research estimated last year that the number of births would fall below 760,000 in 2035, 10 years sooner than expected.

Government measures

The Japanese government is experiencing a growing sense of crisis over the country's declining birthrate. It says the issue must be addressed by the 2030s, when the youth demographic begins to drastically shrink.

The Cabinet this month approved a bill to revise the childrearing assistance law and boost allowances for childrearing and childcare leave.

The bill significantly expands child allowances, providing 30,000 yen, or 200 US dollars, a month for the third child and beyond up to the age of 18.

The bill would also allow childcare centers to accept children regardless of whether their parents are working.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has also devised measures to deal the declining birthrate after school expenses were cited as one cause. It says from April this year it will abolish an income limit on tuition subsidies and give eligible households up to 470,000 yen, or about 3,100 US dollars, a year — the average tuition for private high schools in Tokyo.

South Korea

South Korea's National Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday announced that the country's total fertility rate — an indicator of the number of children a woman gives birth to — was 0.72 last year, down from 0.78 in 2022.

The number of children born in South Korea last year also hit a record low of around 230,000 — down nearly half from a decade ago.

South Korea's statistics bureau cites an increase in the number of married couples who don't have children as a factor behind the decline in the birthrate. It estimates the birthrate this year may fall below 0.7 as the trend accelerates.

President Yoon Suk-yeol has declared that the nation must reassess the underlying causes of the declining birthrate and try new solutions.

South Koreans are now having fewer children than ever.

South Korea's ruling and opposition parties are both touting measures to deal with the declining birthrate ahead of the general election in April. The challenge is whether the government as a whole can take effective measures.

Fewer marriages in Japan

The number of marriages in Japan is also falling. The health ministry says 489,281 marriages were registered in 2023, down 30,542 — or 5.9 percent — from the previous year.

When postwar baby boomers — those born between 1947 and 1949 — were in their 20s, the annual number of marriages exceeded 1 million. A record high of 1,099,984 marriages took place in 1972.

In 2020, 525,507 marriages were registered amid the coronavirus pandemic, down 73,500 from the previous year. Just 504,930 marriages took place in 2022.

Workplaces offer matchmaking service

One reason cited for Japan's declining birthrate is that more people are either choosing to remain single or getting married later in life. Some companies have chosen to tackle the problem themselves.

A leading office furniture maker in Tokyo with more than 2,000 employees includes a matchmaking app in its benefit system. About 300 employees are now using it.

This company offers its employees a free matchmaking service.

The matchmaking app is used by about 1,000 companies that meet certain requirements, including being recognized by the welfare ministry as supporting childrearing.

One new employee at the furniture maker praises the matchmaking app, saying he would have few opportunities to meet anyone otherwise.

A female employee who has been with the company for seven years says the matchmaking service has shown her there's more to life than just work.

Matchmaking apps boost marriages

In recent years, an increasing number of people have met their marriage partners on social media sites and through matchmaking apps. The figure hit 15.1 percent in 2021.

The Recruit Bridal Research Institute conducts surveys and studies on marriage and family. Last year, it found that 32.7 percent of people who married in 2022 had tried matchmaking services, and about half of them had met their partners through them.

The institute says there is now a tendency, especially among young people, to place importance on efficiency and rationality when it comes to love and marriage.

Ochiai Ayumu, the head of Recruit Bridal Research Institute, says matchmaking services "match the values of young people today. He notes, "The purpose of marriage matchmaking services is clear, communication is reasonable and the pace to marriage is faster."

Ochiai adds, "I think expanding marriage matchmaking services will help make people's wishes come true. It is important to find marriage arrangements that suit them."

Feelings of relief

One couple who married last year after meeting through the app say they could trust the service because it was introduced by their companies.

The husband says on other marriage apps it's usually unclear what potential partners do or whether they even have jobs, but notes that's not a concern on his company's app. The wife says she knew for sure on the app that its users were single and worked at one of the participating companies.

When registering on the app and filling out their profiles, the participants have to write how they will cooperate with their partners, including sharing housework and childrearing duties.

In this case, the husband had said he wanted his partner to do 60 percent of housework and childrearing. The wife had written that she would do 60 percent, and so a match was made.

The developer of the matchmaking app says people tend to value security as a prerequisite for having a romantic relationship.

Toyoshima China, the app company's president, says, "People were acting on impulse 20 to 30 years ago. Now, an AI analysis shows 90 percent begin falling in love after they feel psychologically secure. She encourages people to establish their requirements before they start communicating.

AI suggests topics and timing to confess love

The conversations between potential matches are also checked by AI, which then offers related ideas. For example, when a woman said a certain place was beautiful, AI suggested she make plans to go for a walk there.

AI also offers tips on when to confess their love by scrutinizing the conversations and giving supportive pushes based on its calculation of success.

In one case, the AI asked a man if he confessed his love after going on a date. When he said no, it advised him to confess his love the next time as his chance of success was over 90 percent.

A man who was using the app says it took him a while to follow the advice given by AI, but he began doing so after a couple of dates and eventually got married.

He says he had been single for years and his life centered around work. But now he's happy both at home and at the office.

Source: NHK

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